Home Winemaking – The Basics
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The basic brewing and winemaking process could be thought of as being split into very different stages:
Sugar, water, yeast (and some kind of flavouring) are placed together in a brewing vessel and left some kind of (sterile) brewing vessel. The yeast ferments the mixture to produce alcohol, carbon dioxide and an array of compounds much smaller in quantity. Because carbon dioxide is produced as part of the fermenting process, some kind of neat airlock/waterlock or method is needed to ensure gas can escape but that air cannot get in. The reaction is anaerobic and gas coming in could also risk contamination. Without this, the gas would continue to build until the vessel exploded under the pressure! Though I would be quick to dispel the common myth by saying there would be no fire or smoke. For some reason I’ve seen this in films and even cartoons (One Episode of The Simpsons fell foul of this urban myth too!
Once the volume of alcohol in the solution reaches a certain point, it becomes a poison to the yeast itself, which begins to die, bringing the fermentation process to an end. Each strain of yeast is unique (I’m told there are around 1500 strains), and the mixture will also help determine what volume it will reach. For most this will be between 10-12.5% ish.
BUT this will leave you with a cloudy mixture of alcohol and the yeast itself. Think of the water from your tap. It’s clear. THAT’s what we aim for with alcohols, and there are several ways to achieve this. I would strongly recommend using a stabilizer (like potassium sorbate) to ensure the yeast is mostly dead, and fermentation has definitely stopped. Then some kind of finings to cause the yeast and all the rubbish to fall to the bottom, so the top (mostly clear) part can be syphoned off. I would strongly recommend using some kind of filter here for finishing touches to get it completely clear. The Harrison MKIII on is what I use, but they are all good!
Bottling & Maturation
At this stage of home winemaking, the wine/whatever can be safely bottled, as most of the yeast is dead and no significant amounts of CO2 will be produced. HOWEVER not all yeast will be dead, and some of the survivors of this bottled, post-apocalyptic nightmare will hunt around for the last few traces of sugar, pushing up the alcoholic content of the wine (very slightly) but giving it that aged taste of oak from the cork (which is why wine is always racked to be aged!) Of course you can rack something with a metal cap, just don’t expect it to taste quite the same!
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